Layshia Clarendon is a dominant shooting guard and a dedicated spouse and parent, and uses the platform of a professional athlete to speak out on social justice issues.
Clarendon has many identities, even if most see just one: the first openly nonbinary player in the WNBA.
"It can be really disorienting at times to only be reduced to that one specific aspect of who I am," Clarendon said. "I'm a lot more than that."
Clarendon, who uses the pronouns she, he and they interchangeably, has become somewhat of a figurehead for the LGBTQ community, especially nonbinary people. It's a role that he understands and embraces but that nevertheless presents a challenge.
The Lynx first signed the San Bernardino, Calif., native on May 30 off waivers from the New York Liberty. Guard Aerial Powers suffered a hamstring strain around the same time. Mired in an 0-4 start to the regular season, Clarendon provided a breath of life, sparking a three-game winning streak. The Lynx are 12-3 since Clarendon arrived, including a seven-game winning streak heading into the Olympic break. The Lynx will try to make it eight against New York on Sunday night at Target Center.
Before arriving in Minnesota, Clarendon had done his fair share of bouncing around the league. A star in high school and at Cal, he was drafted ninth overall by Indiana in 2013 and started 19 games in three seasons with the Fever. Clarendon was acquired by Atlanta in 2016, saw more action and was an All-Star in 2017. After parts of two seasons in Connecticut, Clarendon signed with New York in 2020.
She appeared in 19 of the Liberty's 22 games that season and averaged a career-high 11.5 points per game. That standout year made New York's decision to waive Clarendon in May a surprise, but the team had to make room on its roster. The Lynx signed Clarendon 10 days later, and the impact was immediate.
Her first game was the fifth for the Lynx, a 79-74 overtime victory over the Sun in which Clarendon scored 12 points, five in the overtime, including a three-pointer with 66 seconds left that put the Lynx up for good.
"Layshia is phenomenal," Lynx veteran Sylvia Fowles said after a practice in June. "[She gets] everything we need to get done, whether that's to shoot, drive to the hole, get steals, put her body on the line night in and night out."
As a veteran point guard, leadership on the court is key for Clarendon, but playing alongside a seasoned player like Fowles and a young star like Napheesa Collier — both members of the U.S. Olympic team — means she has had to find her place in the huddle.
"It's hard if you don't have really talented pieces around you when you're a point guard, because you're supposed to pull the puppet strings," Clarendon said. "If you don't have good puppets around you, it's hard to make the show look good."
Reeve said she's happy with how her newest point guard has fit in as a communicator and a leader.
"That's Lay's strength," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after an overtime victory over Las Vegas on June 25. "From the very first day she stepped foot to be a Minnesota Lynx, they've given us that. Communicating in timeouts, communicating with me — I can't ask for anything more."
Averaging 10.6 points with 5.5 rebounds in 15 games with Minnesota, her impact on the court is obvious. But it's off the court where most of the attention comes, for better or worse.
Being the "first" of anything brings recognition, and Clarendon's status as the first openly nonbinary player in the league is no exception. They have learned that to take care of their own mental health, they can't say yes to every interview request or photo opportunity. They feel proud to represent the queer community, but sometimes, they just want to talk about basketball.
"It's really heavy at times," Clarendon said.
Clarendon, 30, knows that basketball isn't forever, even though she jokes that players like 40-year-old Sue Bird are trying to prove otherwise. That's where some of those other identities come in — namely spouse and parent. Clarendon and her wife, Jessica, welcomed a child in December 2020. "Baby C," as the child is known to the public to maintain privacy, and Jessica are now living in Minnesota with Clarendon.
The month-long Olympic break has been a glimpse into what life could look like after basketball. The Clarendons have gone kayaking on the Mississippi, hiked and explored local restaurants. In true Midwestern fashion, Clarendon referenced the weather, noting that this summer's heat and humidity have been an unwelcome surprise. Still, they said they are enjoying life in the Twin Cities.
Some days are difficult. Any parent knows the sleepless nights that come with a baby. Add a demanding practice schedule and the pressure of being a "figurehead," and Clarendon has a lot to handle in a day.
But, in their own words, "I get paid to throw a rubber ball in an orange hoop. A lot of people get paid to do a lot worse things."